The state of US politics in 2023

06/03/2023

Alexandre breaks down the current tensions in US politics

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Image by The White House

By Alexandre Freiherr Von Hornstein

The outlandish and frankly garish spectacle broadcast across the globe that is US politics might provide some entertainment akin to tacky reality TV shows. Yet unfortunately, whether one likes it or not, what happens in the U S of A has a major impact on the world. However, it is typically not solely what is seen on Capitol Hill that shifts the political landscape in the US. Indeed it is often the races in between the midterms that set the stage of US politics.

The 2022 midterms promised change. President Joe Biden had bucked historic trends, becoming the first President since FDR back in 1934 to retain their party’s incumbent senators and state legislatures. The president and the Democratic Party went a step further and gained a seat in the senate, which paralleled net gains in governorships and state legislatures. The supposed “Red Tsunami'' that analysts predicted would sink Democrats nationwide turned out to be a false alarm. Left with only a slim majority in the House when so much had been promised, Republicans and conservative media turned on Trump and beckoned for DeSantis. The former was the past, losing his grip on the party. Handpicked candidates flailed, legal issues mounted, and the aura of invincibility replaced with a track record of volatility. DeSantis by contrast was the future for the party, turning the once competitive swing state of Florida into a conservative bastion, and becoming the first governor to win re-election with a margin greater than a million. The stage was set, with Republicans moving away from Trump and Democrats pushing on with Biden.

Yet it seems in US politics that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The new Congress suffers from the woes of its predecessors, bound to gridlock with growing partisanship making any attempts at pushing legislation through a Sisyphean task. President Biden might enjoy greater support after his strong showing in 2022, but would he truly have stepped aside from re-election had fortunes differed last year? The alternative candidates whispered within Democratic circles prior to the midterm elections were either held with lower approval to Biden, lack his national profile, or have yet to prove their brand of politics can work on a state level, nevermind the national level.

The Republican Party seemed all but set to move on from Trump, with Republican Senators, Congressmen and conservative media figures thanking the former President for his service for the party and signalling a need to focus on the future. Yet tepid thanks and passive aggressive remarks have done little to dent Trump’s hold over the party, with recent polling putting him 15 points over the heir apparent Governor DeSantis, who has yet to announce his candidacy. Moreover, the only other candidate in the race for the Republican nomination, former ambassador Nicki Haley, has shown an inability to clearly differentiate herself policy-wise from the former president that she once pledged never to run against. Such circumstances are eerily similar to those in 2016, with many Republicans eager to see Trump gone, yet none willing or able to prevent him from becoming their nominee.

This is not to say that there have been no changes in the American political landscape. The Republican majority in the House has resulted in committee changes, a new investigation into Hunter Biden, and increasing scrutiny regarding funds being sent to Ukraine. The new Senate does make appointments slightly easier for the Biden administration. But neither new outlook within the chambers of Congress represent significant changes within the political landscape. The House prior to the midterms was all but expected to switch to Republican control, with the aftermath of the midterm elections mainly bringing to light growing tensions within the GOP as seen with the chaotic Speaker’s election. The new Senate outlook was dimmed for Democrats with Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s decision to leave the Democratic Party and become an independent, giving the party much headache as she will likely run and hinder Democratic momentum in turning the formerly red state blue. Until 2024, 2023 will be a year in which local state elections will prove crucial for the year to come. A prime example of this; the Wisconsin Supreme Court, an election that promises to be the most expensive seat in US history.

With five weeks left of campaigning, the race has seen over 18 million USD spent, with tens of millions expected to be poured in. This might seem misplaced and rather lavish for a single state Supreme Court seat, until one understands the major implications it could have within the state of Wisconsin and across the country. Currently the court is split even with three liberal justices and three conservative justices. Should the Democratic candidate Janet Protasiewicz win, lawsuits challenging state maps that have greatly favoured Republicans can be redrawn, abortion rights can be enshrined and Title 10, a law that effectively killed unions’ ability to bargain, might be revoked. If Republican-backed candidate former Justice Dan Kelly wins, then Republicans can ensure retained control of the state legislature. Moreover, it is the state Supreme Court that often has final say regarding the state’s electoral college votes. And after the numerous challenges and disputes brought forth regarding the 2020 election, and the swing state nature of Wisconsin, whoever wins the seat might impact the upcoming presidential election. This is but one example of the sorts of elections that can have generational impact in the US. The spectacle of the Capitol might provide a disturbing spectacle of sorts, but it is these state elections, be they for State Attorney General or State Supreme Court Justice, that truly shift the battleground of US politics.